Not everyone pays rent on time, pays child support, or pays back a debt in full. Recently, wage garnishment has become a popular option for individuals or businesses to collect on debts or outstanding obligations. Wage garnishment is rarely a method of first resort, it is time-consuming and stressful, but often creditors are left with little option. Any human resources officer or treasurer will agree, they are never excited to receive papers from the local court regarding a wage garnishment on an employee. Though instructions almost always accompany orders for wage garnishment, it is smart business to have at least a basic understanding of wage garnishments and your duties as the employer. No business wants a minor annoyance to turn into a significant problem due to carelessness.
- What is Wage Garnishment?
First step, as always, is to define wage garnishment. A wage garnishment occurs when a creditor attempts to petition a court to withdraw money directly from a debtor’s paycheck. There are many different types of garnishment but wage garnishment specifically targets the debtor’s income stream via direct deductions from their paychecks. Money is taken out based on a specific amount decreed by a court and a creditor receives this money bit by bit until the debt is repaid.
Both Ohio and federal wage garnishment law limit the maximum amount that can be taken from a debtor’s paycheck, usually approximately 25% of the wages to be garnished. Also, depending on the date of filing and date a debt accrued, bankruptcy may release a debtor from their obligation to payback a debt. Further, Ohio law provides debtor exemption limits on money and property that are eligible to be garnished. But for employers whose employees are being pursued for a wage garnishment, there are procedures and rules they must follow when they receive official notice of a court proceeding to collect a debt because, at the end of the day, the employer is sending someone else’s hard-earned money to satisfy a debt this person cannot or does not want to pay.
- As an employer, what does wage garnishment entail?
Initially, you will receive a packet of documents from the court. This is usually multiple copies of the affidavit, order, and notice of garnishment and answer of employer, multiple copies of the notice to the judgment debtor and request for hearing, and, usually, single copies of both the interim and final report and answer of garnishee. An employer has anywhere between five and seven business days from the receipt of the court documents to respond to the court, i.e. mail back the affidavit, order, and notice of garnishment and answer of employer respectively. One copy is returned to the court, one is kept for your records, and one goes to the employee. Instructions on how to respond will be on the paperwork and the party filing for garnishment is responsible in filling in certain important information, like the total amount of the debt and rate of interest. The employee subject to garnishment will also receive two copies of the notice to the judgment debtor and request for hearing forms.
Employers are ordered to begin withholding wage on the first full pay period after the employer receives the garnishment. The amount of withholding is capped at 25% after all allowable deductions are taken out, but the precise amount to be withheld is on the employer to calculate correctly based upon the information provided in the garnishment documents. The garnishment will continue until the debt is paid in full or until a court order is received telling the business toc cease garnishment. Unfortunately, processing wage garnishments aren’t as simple as sending a check to the court. Particular paperwork and accounting must be filed at statutorily defined times, such as a copy of the Interim Report form within 30 days after the end of each employee pay period and Final Report form after the debt is paid in full. Consult with an experienced Cleveland business attorney if you have any questions about your responsibilities or obligations as an employer.
- How long must an employee’s wages be garnished?
An employer must withhold funds until one of the following occurs: 1) the debt is paid in full, 2) the creditor terminates the garnishment, 3) a court appoints a trustee and halts the garnishment, 4) filing of a bankruptcy proceeding, 5) a garnishment of higher priority is received (however, if the higher priority garnishment does not take the maximum amount that can be withheld, the remainder should be used to satisfy the other garnishment.), 6) another garnishment is received from a different creditor and the old garnishment has been processed for a certain length of time as denoted in the local court rules, see an attorney if this circumstance arises.
- What if an employer refuses to process a wage garnishment?
Processing wage garnishments are a pain for businesses and they are only entitled to deduct $3.00 per garnishment transaction. Naturally, the next question is, why do them at all? Well, the wage garnishment documents are essentially an order from the court and disregarding or ignoring them can open a business up to contempt of court proceedings. Contempt can result in fines, damages for attorney’s fees, and court costs, and, in the end, the contempt business will still be forced to process the wage garnishment. Thus, ignoring and failing to respond or process to wage garnishment is not a viable option, and since employers only have a few days to respond, complete and return mail the forms as soon as received. Every business attorney will say the same thing, you don’t have it like it, just do it.
Note, simply firing the relevant employee is not an option either, an employer may not discharge an employee solely because of a garnishment by only one creditor within any one year. Even in the case of multiple and habitual wage garnishments, always consult an experienced Ohio business attorney before terminating an employee solely for this cause.